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Facebook agrees to follow Germany’s Voluntary Privacy Code


german_flagGermany is one of the most stringent countries when it comes to online security and data protection. As such, the country’s government has been pressing Facebook to improve its policy and its security measures or face a hefty fine. Facebook’s refusal to partake in the country’s self-regulatory policies for social networking services already placed it in a precarious position with the German government. The situation was made a lot worse when Facebook implemented their Facial Recognition feature. It really seemed for a while that Facebook was walking on a tight rope not just with Germany, but with the entire EU. Now, however, it seems that the social networking site has managed to defuse the situation by signing Germany‘s “Voluntary Privacy Code”, once again placing it on relatively good terms with the government.

Facebook’s Richard Allen, Director of European Public Policy, attended a meeting with Hans-Peter Friedrich, Germany‘s Interior Minister, to discuss the matter. During the meeting, Allen promised to participate in the said Voluntary Privacy Code. The specific topics discussed in the meeting were not disclosed, but Friedrich and Allen seemed particularly happy about the results.

“We support the initiative towards self-regulation; It can be a very effective way to protect the interests of Internet users”, said Allen. He also went on to explain how Facebook had already begun to implement new features which allowed the users to have control over the data that they share on the social networking site.

Friedrich, meanwhile, had praised Facebook for its willingness to sign up for self-regulation, adding that “the debate over the extent to which German data protection law applies to Facebook has been considerably defused”.

Indeed, while it seems that Facebook is off the hook, Germany‘s privacy commissioner, Thilo Weichert is not at all happy with the proceedings. In a bout of anger, Weichert blasted Friedrich’s actions, saying “Mr. Friedrich should do his homework and finally present a valid draft of a law on online data protection. He shouldn’t meddle in things he is not competent in.”

Indeed, Weichert is quite well-versed in matters of online data protection and has, in fact, been the one to prevent Google from implementing the Street View 3-D Mapping Service on Germany. Weichert is currently trying to push for the boycotting of Facebook’s ‘like’ button, saying that the button allowed Facebook to mine data on the preferences of the users, lodging cookies into their computers and logging users’ IP addresses. Weichert has gone so far as to announce that any German site with the like button would be fined with a heft ?50,000. Weichert has criticized Facebook for not being completely transparent about what they do for users’ data.

Allen, on the other hand, called Weichert’s claims “exaggerated” during the Schleswig-Holstein state parliamentary committee.

When all is said and done, Facebook might have bought itself a little more time by agreeing to the Voluntary Privacy Code. What remains to be seen, however, is if they really will follow through with their promises.

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